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The Wild World of App Dev Outsourcing

By deans ~ November 11th, 2009. Filed under: Observations, Random Thoughts.

I saw this rather alarming story from Ars Technica about outsourced app developers enhancing their credentials by falsely claiming to have developed well known apps.  The piece has been covered widely, but the meat of the story is:

“This prospective client wasn’t looking to hire TapBots for any development work, they were looking for confirmation that a development firm out of India did the coding on ConvertBot, a popular TapBots application. The client had found Trucid, the supposed coders of ConvertBot, on the Rentacoder.comConvertBot Screenshot website, a virtual cork board where companies can hang their business cards. Trucid quoted a sum of $2,400 for an application similar to ConvertBot. The only problem? TapBots designs and writes all of its applications entirely in house.

Curious as to just what was going on, Haddad decided to e-mail Trucid pretending to be interested in their services. In the e-mail, he requested information about the company and a list of examples of its work. It wasn’t long before Haddad received an e-mail back from Trucid’s Chief Marketing Officer explaining who the company was, what it did, and its experience on the iPhone platform. Sure enough, ConvertBot was on the list of the 14 apps the company had supposedly developed. In the correspondence, the CMO reportedly claimed that his company had worked on 14 iPhone applications, the majority of which were coded under nondisclosure agreements. The CMO did say that the company hadn’t signed an NDA for two of their contracted projects: ConvertBot and BillMinder. Those two apps are popular though, and look like jewels in a portfolio. Yet, as it turns out, neither application was touched by Trucid.”

This is sad, but not unexpected.  It reminds me of a story from my days as a rep for Chinese outsourcing companies, which I’ll get to later in this post.  First, I want to highlight the project quote:  $2.4k for something similar to ConvertBot.  Those of us that have been toying with the idea of doing contract app development had better be very frightened by this.  While we can talk all that we want about the quality and the real value of our work, the truth is that the folks at Trucid (no link — I don’t want to reward bad behavior) have set the price.  By the way, I checked on Elance and they’re quoting $15 per hour.  I love developing apps as much as anyone, but $15/hr isn’t much incentive to develop someone else’s stupid idea.

This is a good place to stop reading unless you really want to hear an embarrassing (at least to me) story about one of my past ventures.

Anyway, here goes…

We had a contract to do sales and marketing for a company founded by a very well known Silicon Valley entrepreneur who was originally from China.  In the interest of making this a good story, without getting myself sued, let’s call this company “Phantom.”  Phantom had a beautiful office overlooking the south end of the San Francisco Bay, more than 100 employees working in a new building in the Shanghai Pudong Software Park (with an option on another floor and a commitment to build a whole new building in the park), along with a large operation in Dalian (>400 resources) [at least that was the story that we were given].  When I visited the Phantom Shanghai facility everything was bright and shiny, but there weren’t many people around.  Their president (he was based in their U.S. office) assured me that this was a sign of their tremendous success — almost all of their resources were onsite with clients.  About two weeks into the engagement, the wheels just came off.

Apparently, representatives of a large Japanese consumer electronics company that we were trying to win over were visiting Dalian.  Unfortunately, they decided to make an unannounced visit to the Phantom facility there.  They showed up at the correct address (prominently posted on the web site).  Sadly, the receptionist had never heard of Phantom.  She called the site general manager over.  He had heard of Phantom but told the Japanese visitors that there was no relationship.  The GM was telling the truth.  The people in Dalian were employees of another company that had previously been managed by Phantom’s founder.  He simply listed the facility, and counted the resources, to make Phantom seem more substantial.  There was absolutely no involvement with Phantom.

Shortly after this, the founder decided to shut the company down.  After the dust settled, I cornered the president to demand an explanation.  His only claim was that he had also been duped.  Needless to say, we never made a nickel.  They didn’t even cover the expenses that we incurred.


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1 Response to The Wild World of App Dev Outsourcing

  1. Carroll B. Merriman

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